On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Probate Part, Hunterdon County, Docket No. 39487.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 13, 2010 -
Before Judges Rodriguez and LeWinn.
These appeals, calendared back-to-back, are both addressed in this opinion. We have consolidated these appeals for purposes of this opinion. They concern issues in a protracted will contest between appellant, decedent's son Louis, Jr. (Junior), and respondents, decedent's daughters Virginia Liotta and Nancy Grant. Junior appeals on leave granted from two orders of the trial court. In No. A-0078-09, he appeals from the trial court's order of July 14, 2009 denying his request to declare certain funds "an ademption by satisfaction," and ordering those funds "to be treated as part of the net distributable estate." In No. A-0079-09, Junior appeals from the trial court's order of June 15, 2009, directing him to convey to his sisters two-thirds of the L.S. Grant Properties Limited Partnership (the Partnership) and denying his request to declare that a prior decision in this matter on November 8, 2004, supports his claim to this asset in its entirety.
Litigation in this matter commenced four months after decedent's death in 2001, when Junior filed a complaint seeking: (1) to remove Virginia as co-executor of decedent's estate; (2) to grant letters testamentary to himself and Nancy; and (3) to admit decedent's April 16, 1998 will to probate. Virginia and Nancy filed an answer and counterclaim: (1) asserting that Junior had exercised undue influence on decedent; (2) seeking to have an earlier will, dated January 27, 1992, admitted to probate; and (3) demanding that Junior "return to the Estate all assets in his possession and control."
A nine-day trial ensued between December 15, 2003 and October 22, 2004. Judge John H. Pursel rendered a lengthy decision on November 8, 2004, rejecting the daughters' claim of undue influence and entering judgment in favor of Junior. The daughters appealed and we affirmed "substantially for the reasons set forth in" Judge Pursel's decision. In re the Estate of Grant, No. A-2014-04 (App. Div. May 3, 2007) (slip op. at 3).
We summarize the factual background pertinent to the issues raised in this appeal from Judge Pursel's comprehensive findings of fact in his decision.
Decedent was born on December 15, 1910. During his lifetime, decedent was in the "horse tack . . . and . . . horse auction business," which "grew to be very successful." Junior left high school in the tenth grade to work with decedent in the business, known as Roosevelt Sales Stables. Virginia and Nancy also helped and were generally familiar with the nature of the business. Decedent was engaged primarily in horse auctions; Junior primarily ran the tack business.
The gravamen of the dispute in the earlier trial was the daughters' claim that Junior had exerted undue influence on decedent as evidenced by the following provision in decedent's 1998 will:
ARTICLE FOURTH: Provided that my son, [Junior], shall survive me, I do hereby give, bequeath and devise so much of the tack and inventory as I may die possessed of in an unincorporated business known as "Roosevelt Sales Stables" to my son, [Junior].
Junior "had always been in charge of Roosevelt Sales Stables' line of business involving the purchase and sale of 'tack'. Roosevelt Sales Stables' line of business involving the auctions of horses ceased no later than 1995 as a result of [decedent's] disability commencing in 1994."
Decedent liquidated the inventory in the tack business in 1999. The proceeds, in the amount of $977,849, were deposited into decedent's Roosevelt Sales Stables bank account. Sometime thereafter in 1999, Junior opened his business, Roosevelt Sales.
Judge Pursel noted that decedent had a series of Wills and Codicils in which he treated all of his children equally but showed a preference to his son . . . for the tack business. On occasion he limited to a dollar figure the amount of inventory that could be transferred from the business in the event of [his] death. However, at the time of decedent's death he owned no inventory as it had been liquidated prior to his death. The Wills initially provided that the tac[k] business would go to the son and that the inventory, which he received in ...